Section 7. Worker Rights
a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining
Federal and some provincial laws, including related regulations and statutory instruments, provide for the right of workers in both the public and the private sectors to form and join independent unions, conduct legal strikes, and bargain collectively. Workers in the public sector who provide essential services, including police and armed forces, do not have the right to strike but have mechanisms to provide for due process and to protect workers’ rights. Workers in essential services had recourse to binding arbitration if labor negotiations failed. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and provides for reinstatement of workers fired for union activity. There were no reports of antiunion discrimination or other forms of employer interference in union functions.
Federal labor law applies in federally regulated sectors, which include industries of extra provincial or international character, transportation and transportation infrastructure that crosses provincial and international borders, marine shipping, port and ferry services, air transportation and airports, pipelines, telecommunications, banks, grain elevators, uranium mining and processing, works designated by the federal parliament affecting two or more provinces, protection of fisheries as a natural resource, many First Nation activities, and most crown corporations. These industries employed approximately 10 percent of workers.
The law grants the government exclusive authority to designate which federal employees provide an essential service and do not have the right to strike. The law also makes it illegal for an entire bargaining unit to strike if the government deems 80 percent or more of the employees of the unit essential.
Provincial and territorial governments regulate and are responsible for enforcing their own labor laws in all occupations and workplaces that are not federally regulated, leaving categories of workers excluded from statutory protection of freedom of association in several provinces. Some provinces restrict the right to strike. For example, agricultural workers in Alberta and Ontario do not have the right to organize or bargain collectively under provincial law.
The government generally respected freedom of association and the right of collective bargaining. The government effectively enforced applicable laws and regulations, including with effective remedies and penalties such as corrective workplace practices and criminal prosecution for noncompliance and willful violations. Penalties were sufficient to deter violations. Administrative and judicial procedures were not subject to lengthy delays and appeals.
b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, and the government effectively enforced the law. The law prescribes penalties for violations of up to 14 years’ imprisonment, or life imprisonment in the case of certain aggravating factors, such as kidnapping or sexual assault. Such penalties were sufficiently stringent. The government investigated and prosecuted cases of forced labor and domestic servitude.
The federal government held employers of foreign workers accountable by verifying employers’ ability to pay wages and provide accommodation and, through periodic inspections and mandatory compliance reviews, ensuring that employers provided the same wages, living conditions, and occupation specified in the employers’ original job offer. The government can deny noncompliant employers the permits required to recruit foreign workers for two years and impose fines of up to C$100,000 ($76,800) per violation of the program. Some provincial governments imposed licensing and registration requirements on recruiters or employers of foreign workers and prohibited the charging of recruitment fees to workers.
There were reports employers subjected noncitizen or foreign-born men and women to forced labor in the agricultural sector, food processing, cleaning services, hospitality, construction industries, and in domestic service. NGOs reported bonded labor, particularly in the construction industry, and domestic servitude constituted the majority of cases of forced labor and that some victims had participated in the Temporary Foreign Worker Program.
Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.
c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment
The law prohibits the worst forms of child labor. There is no federal minimum age for employment. In federally regulated sectors, children younger than 17 may work only when they are not required to attend school under provincial legislation, provided the work does not fall under excluded categories (such as work underground in a mine, on a vessel, or in the vicinity of explosives), and the work does not endanger health and safety. Children may not work in any federally regulated sector between the hours of 11 p.m. and 6 a.m. The provinces and territories have primary responsibility for regulation of child labor, and minimum age restrictions vary by province. Enforcement occurs through a range of laws covering employment standards, occupational health and safety, education laws, and in regulations for vocational training, child welfare, and licensing of establishments for the sale of alcohol. Most provinces restrict the number of hours of work to two or three hours on a school day and eight hours on a nonschool day, and prohibit children ages 12 to 16 from working without parental consent, after 11 p.m., or in any hazardous employment.
Authorities effectively enforced child labor laws and policies, and federal and provincial labor ministries carried out child labor inspections either proactively or in response to formal complaints. There were reports that limited resources hampered inspection and enforcement efforts. Penalties were pecuniary and varied according to the gravity of the offense.
There were reports child labor occurred, particularly in the agricultural sector. There were also reports children, principally teenage females, were subjected to sex trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation (see section 6, Children).
d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation
The law and regulations prohibit discrimination with respect to employment or occupation on the basis of race, color, sex, religion, national origin or citizenship, disability, sexual orientation or gender identity, age, language, HIV-positive status, or other communicable diseases. Some provinces, including Quebec, New Brunswick, and Newfoundland and Labrador, as well as the Northwest Territories, prohibit employment discrimination on the grounds of social origin, “social condition,” or political opinion. The government enforced the law effectively, and penalties were sufficient to deter violations. Federal law requires, on a complaint basis, equal pay for equal work for four designated groups in federally regulated industries enforced through the Canadian Human Rights Commission: women, persons with disabilities, indigenous persons, and visible minorities. Ontario and Quebec have pay equity laws that cover both the public and private sectors, and other provinces require pay equity only in the public sector.
Authorities encouraged individuals to resolve employment-related discrimination complaints through internal workplace dispute resolution processes as a first recourse, but federal and provincial human rights commissions investigated and mediated complaints and enforced the law and regulations. Some critics complained the process was complex and failed to issue rulings in a timely manner. Foreign migrant workers have the same labor rights as citizens and permanent residents, although NGOs alleged discrimination occurred against migrant workers and that some refugee claimants faced language and other nonlegal barriers that made it difficult to enter the workforce.
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
There is no national minimum wage and no official poverty income level. As of October provincial and territorial minimum wage rates ranged from C$14.00 to C$11.06 ($10.75 to $8.50) per hour. Some provinces exempt agricultural, hospitality, and other specific categories of workers from minimum wage rates. For example, Ontario has a minimum wage lower than the respective minimum for adult workers for persons younger than 18 who work less than 28 hours per week when school is in session. The government effectively enforced wage rates and penalties were sufficient to deter violations.
Standard work hours vary by province, but in each the limit is 40 or 48 hours per week, with at least 24 hours of rest. The law requires payment of a premium for work above the standard workweek. There is no specific prohibition on excessive compulsory overtime, which is regulated by means of the required rest periods in the labor code that differ by industry. Some categories of workers have specific employment rights that differ from the standard, including commercial fishermen, oil-field workers, loggers, home caregivers, professionals, managers, and some sales staff.
Federal law provides safety and health standards for employees under federal jurisdiction. Provincial and territorial legislation provides for all other employees, including foreign and migrant workers. Standards were current and appropriate for the industries they covered. Responsibility for identifying unsafe situations resides with authorities, employers, and supervisors, not the worker. Federal, provincial, and territorial laws protect the right of workers with “reasonable cause” to refuse dangerous work and to remove themselves from hazardous work conditions, and authorities effectively enforced this right. The government also promoted safe working practices and provided training, education, and resources through the Canadian Center for Occupational Health and Safety, a federal agency composed of representatives of government, employers, and labor.
Minimum wage, hours of work, and occupational health and safety standards were effectively enforced. Federal and provincial labor departments monitored and effectively enforced labor standards by conducting inspections through scheduled and unscheduled visits, in direct response to reported complaints, and at random. Penalties were pecuniary and varied according to the gravity of the offense. Under the federal labor code, maximum penalties for criminal offenses, including criminal negligence causing death or bodily harm, or willful breach of labor standards in which the person in breach knew that serious injury or death was likely to occur, could include imprisonment. Enforcement measures include a graduated response, with a preference for resolution via voluntary compliance, negotiation, and education; prosecution and fines serve as a last resort. Some trade unions continued to note that limited resources hampered the government’s inspection and enforcement efforts.
NGOs reported migrants, new immigrants, young workers, and the unskilled were vulnerable to violations of the law on minimum wage, overtime pay, unpaid wages, and excessive hours of work. NGOs also alleged that restrictions on the types of labor complaints accepted for investigation and delays in processing cases discouraged the filing of complaints.
According to the Association of Workers Compensation Boards of Canada, during 2016, the most recent year for which data were available, there were 904 workplace fatalities.